The need for central resources in answering questions in different domains: Folk psychology, biology, and economics Academic Article uri icon


  • This study examined whether when lay people reason about everyday domains, they do so in a slow, serial, deliberate process or using an automatic, effortless, associative process, and whether there are differences in this respect between content domains. The cognitive resources used by lay persons in reasoning about everyday domains were investigated using a dual task methodology. Fifty-eight adult participants answered computer-administered questions on folk biology (ToB), folk economics (ToE), and folk psychology, where the latter included questions requiring participants to infer an emotion from a verbally presented situation (ToP) and false-belief tasks (ToM). Each domain was tested with questionnaires at two levels of difficulty. Half the participants concurrently performed the 2-back task. Cognitive load reduced accuracy on the main task for ToM tasks (especially for second-order false-belief items) but not for the other domains. Cognitive load reduced accuracy and increased latencies on the secondary task for all domains. These findings suggest that the appropriate generalization does not relate to content domains (such as folk psychology versus folk biology), but rather to the nature of the task under consideration. For ToE, ToB, and ToP, the relevant inference questions appear to be processed mainly by the associative systems in LTM, and the process is not affected by a concurrent secondary task. For ToM, the response generation processing occurs in the analytic subsystem, and is therefore affected by cognitive load. Further, the more difficult set of questions impaired the secondary task more than the simpler set, in every domain and in terms of both accuracy and latency. This suggests that the processing involved in the associative system consumes domain-general resources too.

publication date

  • January 1, 2013